The need for speed

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Suspended just above the floor in their racing machines, the drivers clad in overalls and helmets zoom round corners and then accelerate flat out down the straight. There’s plenty of overtaking action as they compete to see who can be the fastest.

But this isn’t Formula One. While millionaire megastars such as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battle it out for world championship glory, would-be racers are having fun whizzing around in karts at the Team-Sport Karting track in Gosport.

George Hutchinson from Bognor Regis celebrated his 13th birthday with a track-party event together with three of his friends''Picture: Malcolm Wells (13620-2298)

George Hutchinson from Bognor Regis celebrated his 13th birthday with a track-party event together with three of his friends''Picture: Malcolm Wells (13620-2298)

The indoor 450m-long circuit is proving more popular than ever, and across the company’s nine tracks there has been a 40 per cent rise in visitor numbers in just three years.

More than 250,000 people went karting with Team-Sport last year alone, and the company plans to go from nine to 16 tracks by 2016.

As the F1 season gears up to start a week tomorrow with the Australian Grand Prix, Gosport track manager Chris Jackson thinks the increased popularity of karting is a direct result of F1’s appeal.

The 41-year-old says: ‘I think recently there has been a big upsurge because British drivers such as Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button are a lot more popular as they are doing well.

‘People want to go karting because it’s the thing that the everyday person can do to get to feel like a racing driver. Karts may be little but they are very powerful and you can get used to the speed of the course.’

Many F1 drivers started their careers in karts, with Lewis Hamilton getting his first kart at the age of six. For many youngsters, going karting takes them one step closer to their racing idols.

Chris says: ‘From indoor karting, the next step for kids is to take part on an outdoor track. They then get to progress through the stages.

‘All the F1 drivers they aspire to be like started out by just getting in a kart and giving it a go.’

Russ Mabley, 39, a regional manager for Team-Sport, believes the similarities between a kart and an F1 car make it fun for anyone who likes the sport.

‘Going karting will give you the initial skills in order to progress and move on. It’s basically a proper form of motorsport and it’s very competitive.

‘You’re driving something really fast, you’re low to the ground and you have to try and beat the person next to you. We have a children’s championship and we see a lot of drivers who have the potential to be motorsport competitors.’

He adds: ‘It’s exciting, you get such an adrenalin rush and it’s the nearest you can get to driving an F1 car, for a normal person that is.

‘The maximum you can go is 40mph but because you’re about an inch off the floor it feels like you’re going 75 or 80mph. I like it because everything is very similar to professional motorsport. It’s the same sensations that happen in an F1 car.

‘If you go into a corner too fast then you might spin the kart. It’s the same when you see F1, they are using the same driving techniques.’

The track at Gosport offers long straights, tight corners and it even has a bridge. It also offers a variety of experiences for anyone wanting to get involved, from families racing together to large groups who can take part in endurance tests. With a pit stop, lights and a running commentary, it feels like a real racetrack.

Team-Sport also took part in the Red Bull Kart Championships last year, with two drivers from Gosport going into the final.

Chris says: ‘We run a membership scheme, which anyone can join so they can take part in events. The more you come, the better you will get, and you will get a much better quality drive.’

Vouchers for the Team-Sport track are given to local schools in the area, and Chris has noticed a lot of them are given out as rewards, giving children the chance to see exactly what karting is like.

The company also runs a nationwide academy scheme, which was started by Steve Bell in Eastleigh. Chris explains: ‘It’s for small groups of children, and we specifically teach them how to drive the karts. They do a session, and afterwards they get a de-briefing on how they could improve.

‘It started up for the kids, so they have something to aspire to and something to learn that makes them drive faster.’

Go to team-sport.co.uk for more information about Team-Sport in Gosport.

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